There are over 7,000 homeless in the Silicon Valley. While larger plans are in motion at the City and County level, for a longer term solution; this past winter, there was a need for short term shelter. In anticipation of the predicted severe winter weather fueled by El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean, Bishop McGrath asked all Catholic Parishes in the Diocese, to consider opening their facilities, to refuge the homeless during the winter months. St. Francis of Assisi parish answered the call. The Emergency Homeless Shelter Program was established as a parish priority by Msgr. Gene; an ad hoc committee was formed; a plan was put together; and the SFOA community rose to the challenge.
Leveraging on many of the existing Outreach Programs, here is what our community was able to accomplish:
- Over 140 volunteers signed up to participate in the program. Overall our parishioners contributed an estimated 1000 man hours!
- The Social Justice committee provided basic hygienic supplies, allowing our guests to wash, shave, and brush their teeth; functions that we take for granted, but went a long way in helping our guests feel human again. They also supplied sleeping bags, mats, socks, shorts, raincoats, and sweat pants, which provided physical comfort.
- The Sandwich group led the effort in organizing the many volunteers, who prepared and served dinner and breakfast, making sure our guests did not go to bed hungry, and had a full stomach before heading out.
- Most of the food was provided by the volunteers who prepared the meals, but the Farmer’s Market group, Bread Project, and even the Wednesday group which already feeds the homeless contributed provisions as well.
- Our SFOA facilities crew put in the extra effort to ensure that the accommodations were restored to parish functionality. •Our parish staff fielded calls and routed inquiries.
- The In-Processing squad welcomed our guests and got them situated.
- The Overnight Supervision team watched over our guests through the night, while safeguarding the premises.
- Shower / Laundry facilities were provided by Project WeHOPE’s Dignity on Wheels
- Those who were unable to volunteer, participated through financial contributions totaling over $2,500.
Our project brought us together as a community, giving us the opportunity to develop a fellowship, while servicing our neighbors in need. And in addition to gathering together as a parish community, we had the chance to collaborate with other fellow Catholic parishes such as Holy Spirit and Most Holy Trinity. We also partnered with Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, making our program an interdenominational effort.
Although we did not reach our planned capacity of 15, we were blessed with between 4-6 guests a night. The smaller number of guests allowed us to interact in a more intimate setting, letting us evangelize on a personal level, through our actions, in the true way of St. Francis – “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” We were able to not only prepare and serve food, but to sit and share a meal; not only to provide shelter, but offer kindness and mercy. While it may seem that we put in a lot of time, effort, and man power to shelter 4-6 individuals; let us not forget the Good Shepherd who goes out of His way to rescue a single lost sheep.
Thank you to all who participated!